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Ski Coach Acknowledges Suicide Attempt


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February 22, 2006

TURIN, Italy (AP by Ariel David)—The disgraced Austrian ski coach who set off a doping scandal at the Turin Games said he cannot understand why he was targeted for drug raids, and acknowledged he was trying to kill himself when he crashed into a police roadblock during a bizarre flight from the Olympics.

Walter Mayer, whose presence among Austria’s biathletes and cross-country skiers at the Olympics triggered Italian police raids and International Olympic Committee scrutiny, told an Austrian magazine he was the victim of “a plot” linked to his ongoing battle with the international skiing federation.

NEWS, an Austrian newsweekly, reported Wednesday that Mayer panicked when he heard on the radio he was being sought by Italian police. The magazine quoted Mayer as saying he became suicidal when he saw the police roadblock shortly after crossing the border into Austria.

“I was completely shattered, I couldn’t think clearly. When something like that happens to you, you are in an extraordinary mental situation. I wanted to take my own life, because my world had been destroyed. I wanted to end my life with the car, Mayer was quoted as saying.

Mayer insisted he was in Turin as a private citizen to see the Olympics, and that he “had no medical equipment with me.

“I had done nothing and was suddenly suspected and being searched for in another country, he said. “It was only a private trip. The only thing that was in the car was my brother’s tool for electrical repairs. Nothing else.

The head of the Austrian ski federation said Tuesday that two athletes admitted they “may have used illegal methods at the Winter Games. Police seized unlabeled drugs, a blood transfusion machine and dozens of syringes in a surprise sweep of Austrian athletes’ living quarters over the weekend.[pagebreak]And investigators say they found more syringes in the rented living quarters of Mayer, who fled following weekend police raids on Austrian athletes’ lodgings.

“It is indeed a saga, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said. “Not even Hollywood could come up with a scenario like it.

The IOC said it will set up a special panel to investigate the Austrian Olympic committee, ski federation, athletes and coaches, likely after the Olympics end, he said. The IOC could sanction the Austrians even without any athletes testing positive for banned substances.

“To find somebody guilty of doping you don’t necessarily need urine and blood samples, Rogge said. “It can also be based on circumstantial evidence.

The Olympic drug-testing lab was still analyzing samples taken from 10 Austrian biathletes and cross-country skiers in last weekend’s raids, the IOC said Wednesday morning. Spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the results should be known by the end of the games Sunday, but didn’t rule out the possibility the process could stretch beyond then.

“They are testing against the full range of prohibited substances, including EPO, she said. “This can take time.

The scandal could hurt Austria’s bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. Salzburg is considered one of the favorites among the seven cities bidding for those games. The host city will be selected in July 2007 at an IOC meeting in Guatemala City.

In Saturday’s raids, police seized about 100 syringes, unlabeled medicine bottles, boxes of prescription drugs and a blood-transfusion machine, a person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The person asked not to be identified because the investigation was ongoing.

Austrian ski federation president Peter Schroecksnadel said two athletes who bolted the games after the raids _ and since have been kicked off the team _ confessed to a team official they may have used “illegal methods.

Schroecksnadel said at a news conference Tuesday that Wolfgang Perner and Wolfgang Rottmann made the admission to team sports director Markus Gandler. Schroecksnadel did not elaboratte, but said the federation would investigate.

Schroecksnadel also acknowledged it was “a mistake” for the team to have allowed Mayer to coach in a private capacity at the Turin Games. He was banned from the Olympics for links to blood doping in 2002 in Salt Lake City.[pagebreak]An Italian prosecutor found more syringes Monday night when he inspected the private home that Mayer had rented for the Olympics in the mountain hamlet of Pragelato, said Mario Pescante, an IOC member and government supervisor for the games.

The seized materials were still being analyzed by Italian authorities, and no test results were announced as of Wednesday morning.

Five-time Olympian Ludwig Gredler, a member of Austria’s biathlon team, said the team has no choice but submit to the searches.

“These are the laws of Italy and we have to follow them, he said. “Team Austria is a small group and we live in close proximity to each other, but naturally I can’t know what happens in other rooms. I know I’m clean and have taken nothing, but I can’t speak for my teammates.

Mayer fled the Turin area and headed for his native Austria sometime after the weekend raids. He resurfaced the next night when he crashed his car into a police blockade just 15 miles inside the Austrian border with Italy, some 250 miles from Turin.

Schroecksnadel said police took Mayer to a psychiatric facility, where he was staying because it was feared he might attempt suicide. Mayer pleaded guilty to charges of civil disorder, assault and damage to property in an Austrian court Tuesday.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press